Why aren't millennials buying houses? They can't afford it.
When the economy bounced back, millennial salary prospects didn't.
Have you seen this guy?
Friends, meet "Old Economy Steve."
On the Internet, Steve has become the judgmental, clueless baby-boomer embodiment of millennials' worst money-related frustrations.
Who is he, exactly? Well, Old Economy Steve knew how to pull himself up by his bootstraps. He graduated from college without student debt, immediately got a high-paying job, and plans to retire with a pension. He just can't understand why those lazy millennials are living with their parents and still unemployed. (Spoiler: Old Economy Steve is kind of a jerk.)
Of course, Old Economy Steve is really just the fictionalized version of millennial financial anxieties. (And, by the way, it seems like the real "Steve" in the photo is actually a down-to-earth guy). I'd like to think most boomers are a little more compassionate toward us young folk than he is, too, but his meme definitely reflects the discomfort that many millennials have with their money situations right now.
What do I mean by “millennial money situations?"
You've heard it all before, so sing along if you know the words: Millennials aren't buying houses, they're not buying cars, they're not saving for retirement, and sometimes they're not even moving out of their parents' basements.
Is all of this because millennials are lazy? Entitled? Coddled? Snake people? Poor planners?
Not quite. A lot of folks would argue that it's because millennials have no money (check out that point of view in an article from the New York Times earlier this year). Here are a few truth bombs that might explain what's going on:
1. Millennial wages aren't just frozen — they're actually shrinking.
Many millennials were either in college or about to graduate when the recession hit hard. Lots of employees across the U.S. were let go — not exactly the best economic climate when you're looking for your first job.
And while the economy bounced back, their salary prospects did not. As The Atlantic pointed out last year, average wages for young people have fallen by 10% in many industries since 2007. Add that to the fact that many millennials live in big cities with extremely high rents and high costs of living because that's where the jobs are.
Just to put it in perspective, the average male student graduating from college in 1979 made an hourly wage of $19.97 (adjusted for inflation). For 2010 graduates, the average hourly wage was $21.77 — down almost a dollar from 2000. And female graduates make even less than that. You can point that out to them when they ask why you're not planning on buying a house in your 20s.
So we're not getting paid as much as previous generations of young adults were getting paid, we live in places where it's not really feasible to buy a home, and of course…
2. Student loans eat up a hefty chunk of whatever income millennials have left.
Experts posit that millennials are less likely to be homeowners than previous generations mostly because all of their cash is going toward paying off their debt. Most are unable to save.
But there's one more piece of information that might surprise you about millennials' finances:
3. We're finding ways to fix the problem.
I'm going to speak for my generation for a second here: Just because we're young, it doesn't mean we're lazy. We haven't given up yet. In fact, a lot of us are finding some really creative solutions to cope with the changing economy.
Like what? Like tiny houses. These little homes are inexpensive, energy-efficient, and quickly becoming a trend. And in the future, we might even see apartment-like buildings made of mobile “smart homes."
We're also being smarter about our health care costs, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rate for young folks is lower now than it's been since before 1997.
And we're putting pressure on our lawmakers to get real about paralyzing student loans. There's no reason interest rates on student debt should be so high, and some elected representatives and candidates are speaking up about it.
So, lazy? Entitled? Coddled? Snake people? Poor planners? Not quite.
Unable to keep their heads above water? That seems more like it. Admittedly, there's a lot of systemic work still to be done for millennials and their financial security. I'm in the thick of it with all the rest of you.
But there's also a lot that we're already doing — because just like every other generation, we want control over our futures.